National Academies webinar on “Using GIS to Make Urban Mobility More Sustainable”

The Geographical Sciences Committee of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine has posted a recording of my 1 March 2017 webinar on “Using GIS to Make Urban Mobility More Sustainable.”  Thanks to the GSC for sponsoring and hosting this event!

Road building, traffic safety, oil by rail and air quality: A brimming cornucopia of transportation news

Some days its seems like it rains transportation news.  Today is one of those days.  I’m going to be efficient (read: lazy) and provide a single round-up of several interesting news items:

  1. People are driving less so should we stop building new roads? As the Atlantic Cities reports, vehicle miles traveled in the US is leveling, perhaps declining.  When will we stop increasing road capacity and invest in alternative modes?  (Thanks to Michael Widener for this post.)
  2. This week in my Sustainable Transportation course, we talked about safety.  Lo and behold, a tale of two “cities” spews forth from cyberspace – a map of NYC traffic fatalities and injuries and an article from The Economist about why Sweden has so few roads deaths.  (The Economist article notes that NYC is trying to match Sweden’s success with its Vision Zero Initiative.  One can see why.)
  3. Meanwhile in upstate New York, there is increasing concern about the amount of oil traveling by rail instead of pipelines due to the domestic energy boom.  [NYT: Bakken Crude, Rolling Through Albany].   ‘ “Albany is getting a lot of the risk and almost no economic benefits or jobs from this,” said Susan Christopherson, a professor at Cornell University’s Department of City and Regional Planning.’
  4. Speaking of crude, one reason why Putin is watching developments in the Ukraine is so many of Russia’s gas and oil pipelines pass through it.  [NYT: The Ukraine in Maps]
  5. Finally, air quality is so bad in China it is being compared to “nuclear winter”: sunlight can not get through to crops, potentially threatening the food supply.  [The Guardian: China’s toxic air pollution resembles nuclear winter, say scientists]

Air pollution and school absences

I recently moved to Columbus, Ohio from Salt Lake City, Utah, a place we enjoyed albeit with some notable exceptions, including the poor air quality during the winter.

The Wasatch Front is plagued with persistent cold air pools in the winter; known more informally as temperature inversions.  These occur when high pressure settles in over the Intermountain West, causing cold air to settle in the valleys and trapping pollutants.  Inversions are becoming more chronic with climate change, and more people and especially vehicles in the Salt Lake Valley is creating among the worse PM2.5 pollutant problem in the United States.  PM2.5 is particulate matter that is 2.5 microns in size or smaller; this is very nasty stuff that penetrates deep in your lungs and crosses into the bloodstream to affect much of your body.

A recent study by BYU economist Arden Pope and the Salt Lake Tribune suggests the toll being taken on a vulnerable population in Utah – children.  Evidence suggests that school absences correlate with PM2.5 levels.   The number of elementary students absent from school increase with air pollution levels in Salt Lake City, Provo and Alpine. However, in mountainous Park City, which sits above the haze, school absences rose before and after weekends and holiday breaks, but were otherwise flat.    [ Bad air: Pollution and school absences]

I’ve also done some research on air quality issues in northern Utah, showing that the air quality alert system may be increasing, not decreasing, the amount of driving in Utah.  [Utah’s Air Quality Alerts May Have Inadvertently Put More Cars on the Road]